Where are Ed Miliband's fairweather friends?

The Labour leader is being bitten by the mouths that until last week were praising him.

Come on then, where are you? Purveyors of the "new politics", advocates of the new progressive order. Your man is in trouble. Ed Miliband is getting what is known in technical parlance as a bloody good kicking. And yet you're silent. You plastic loyalists are nowhere.

We were all supposed to be rallying around, weren't we? Marching in step. "Back the leader" was the mantra. Back the leader until he does something significant we don't like; then we can cut him loose.

My Twitter account is strangely silent. There are no angry missives from chief lieutenant Peter Hain today.

"The strikes are a mistake," said Ed Miliband on Friday. Then, we waited for his loyal aides to follow up in support -- and we waited. "I don't think political leaders, in opposition or in government, should either applaud strikes or condemn strikes," said Hain on Sunday. Jesus. With friends like these...

Miliband is leader of the Labour Party. In my opinion, he hasn't been a particularly impressive leader of the Labour Party, but at the moment he's the only leader we've got. He's not going to become a better leader by backing the strike action. I support the strikers, and I've said so. I think they have right on their side, and I think they have a chance of victory.

But once Miliband became leader of the Labour Party, he relinquished the luxury of speaking out exclusively on behalf of those with whom he has empathy. Once he was elected Leader of the Labour Party, he took on the responsibility of speaking for the country.

You were the ones that elected him -- those of you who now cry betrayal the loudest. You put him in that position of responsibility. And having done so, you now chose to castigate him when he exercises it.

What did you think you were doing -- electing the president of a student union? This man is putting himself forward for the job of prime minister of the country. He can't pick up a placard and take a stroll along the picket lines.

I wish he could. I wish we did live in a country where the majority of our fellow citizens were members of a trade union, and shared their values and objectives, but many of our fellow citizens don't. We know that, because we're on the streets, and David Cameron and Nick Clegg are sitting around the table with their feet up, having a good laugh at Miliband being bitten by the mouths that until last week were praising him.

You didn't actually believe all this rubbish about the new politics, and no more triangulation, and no more pandering the press, did you? There is no "new politics". There never will be. There is only the same soul-destroying, self-crucifying struggle to push the boulder back to the top of the hill. You knew that when you signed up, when you joined the Labour Party, when you chose to make a difference.

So come on, fairweather friends. You talked a good game when the sun was shining and you were basking in the accolades of the progressive majority.

Now let's see what you're really made of. Your man'st in trouble. That means you: Sadiq Khan, Peter Hain, Jon Tricket, Chuka Umunna, Seamus Milne, Neal Lawson, Jacqui Ashley.

I'm standing up for Ed Miliband. Where the hell are you?

 

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.